“And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
How do you handle it when things don’t go your way? Are you the kind of person who can pretty much just roll with it, or are you more of a worrier? The fact is, sometimes life doesn’t go our way. And while those departures from expectation are usually fairly minor and little more than inconveniences, occasionally they are far more bothersome than that. Sometimes these setbacks take the form of various trials and tribulations; they appear as painful persecutions. What do we do then? Paul offers some counsel here that sounds really odd, but in the context of a relationship with Jesus makes perfect sense. Let’s talk about it.
Generally speaking, affliction is something we want to avoid. At least, that idea seems to make sense. After all, who goes looking for situations that test and try our character? Does anyone really want to have things fly apart into a million pieces on them? If you pay much attention to the culture and the kinds of things it encourages us to do and think, it becomes pretty clear pretty quickly that it agrees. The world is all about telling us not only how we can avoid undesirable situations, but that we should be able to do so. We deserve for things to go our way. That kind of line is easy to buy into.
And so, after spending some time marinating in an environment like this, we start to think of hard times of any kind as a net negative. This makes perfect sense too because, again, who wants to have things not go their way? No one. That’s who.
But there’s this thing Paul says here in Romans 5. He says we – meaning followers of Jesus – “boast” in our affliction. The word he uses there could also be translated “rejoice.” Either way, the idea is that we are pleased enough with them that we are willing to share about them with someone else and not in a complaining sort of way. We are glad and even grateful for the hard times we have experienced.
But that’s crazy, right? I mean, who in their right mind is happy about going through something hard? I think about the friends I mentioned last week who lost their house to a fire. Are they really supposed to be glad about that? Because there wasn’t a whole lot of gladness going around the yard when I was over there ministering in the aftermath. Their story has been told all over the county, including in the local newspaper, but none of it has been boasting or rejoicing. Was that not right?
What Paul doesn’t mean here is that we should somehow turn our natural mourn switch to rejoice when we face trying seasons. When some tragedy has befallen us, doing a jig still doesn’t make any sense. Paul is not talking about what our emotional state should be in the aftermath of some terrible loss. There are situations that demand we mourn. In those situations, we should mourn. There are times when tears are appropriate, and we should cry in them. Anger is occasionally the emotion we need to be feeling, and in those moments, we should burn with a fiery fury. All of that is appropriate for everyone including followers of Jesus.
What Paul is getting at here is that for the person who has committed her life in service and obedience to Jesus, there is a bigger picture to things that must not be ignored. And in this bigger picture, while trying times are still not something we seek out, they are not ultimately the tragedies for us they might be for someone who doesn’t share such a commitment. In the couple of verses before this one, Paul has begun talking about the incredible gift of justification we have in Christ by faith. He rightly says that this gift of grace and eternal life is something in which we can rejoice; it is something of which we can boast. And this not in some arrogant way, but in an invitational one. We are so glad and grateful for this gift that we want others to know about it so they can share with us in our joy.
Landing on vv. 3-4 here, Paul is saying that this gift of grace is so overwhelmingly good that it allows us even to rejoice in the hard times we face. It does so, because it gives us a perspective on them that someone who has not received this gift simply cannot have. In Christ we boast, we rejoice in our afflictions not because the afflictions themselves are good things – they are indisputably not – but because of the good things our faithful God will bring to our lives as a result of our having experienced them. When we are wrapped in God’s grace, that grace becomes the means by which we understand everything we go through.
This is what Paul is trying to help us understand here. When we face affliction of some kind, going through that hard season produces a spirit of endurance in us. It makes us more able to go through a future season of adversity. We know better now how to hold up under that kind of pressure. A little bit of application can help us apply that same knowledge to other situations of affliction. And, as we become people who can better and more resiliently endure hard times, our character begins to develop. We become more patient people. We are more gracious with those around us because they might be going through something hard in their own life that we can’t see. We are more generous with those who are hurting. And none of these and other similarly virtuous characteristics are simply a show. They are proven by experience.
Then, as we begin to see how those seasons of affliction have not broken us, but actually made us better, we begin to develop a spirit of hopefulness that not only our seasons of hardship, but all of our lives in Christ are working to make us more like Him. If this is where all of life is pointing, then nothing we experience has the power to destroy us. In Him, it will all only make us stronger. No longer, then, do we look to despair when life gets unbearably hard. We lean into hope because we know.
Now when we face seasons of adversity, we don’t recoil in horror, we boastfully rejoice at what good it is God plans to accomplish in our lives and in the lives of the people around us through them. Now, this doesn’t necessarily make the hard moments any less hard. But it gives us a perspective that brings hope and joy to our spirits even in the midst of the hard. We still cry and we still mourn and we still get angry, but all those right and proper emotions are tinged with joy – a sense of contentedness in our God and His plans for our lives. Paul even goes on to note that this hope won’t disappoint us because God has given us the gift of His Holy Spirit to confirm our hopefulness and to encourage us on forward in it.
So, yes, we rejoice and boast in our afflictions. From the standpoint of the world such a position makes absolutely no sense at all. But the world doesn’t understand what we do in Christ. Those moments of affliction may be impossibly difficult, but there’s a bigger picture being painted, and the dark colors of this corner of the canvas are only going to be part of an unbelievably beautiful masterpiece. Keep that full canvas in mind and keep moving forward toward the day when it will all be revealed in its glorious splendor. Then you’ll be the kind of person from whom life flows.